Tribute to Mrs. Jen Shinobu Lai (賴陳忍受1919 - 2009) By Wantzu Liu (謝婉芷)
Mrs. Jen Lai was born in Tainan, Taiwan to a
devout Christian family as a Japanese subject. She attended the
Tainan First Girls School, a prestigious school, exclusively for
Japanese expatriates. Later, she was trained as a surgical nurse
at Tainan Christian Hospital. This unique skill became very
important later on.
Mrs. Lai was a remarkable woman, both
professionally and personally. She applied her professional
training from the surgical room to attending to pregnant women
and subsequently becoming a midwife. She delivered over a
thousand babies. She also performed public health official nurse
duties by making home visits to tuberculosis patients. To ensure
the patients’ compliance with treatment regimens, she collected
sputum samples and counseled patients and their families, at the
risk of exposing herself and two young children to the
potentially lethal disease. Public Health was a top priority of
the Japanese government, which adopted and implemented policies
regarding water treatment, disease control, public awareness and
more. Thanks to these polices, Taiwan public health vastly
improved. The policies were carried on even after the Japanese
government ceased its power in 1945.
After a brief illness, Mr. Lai passed away
unexpectedly. Mrs. Lai became a widow at the age of 38. Her son
and daughter were at high school and primary school
respectively. Suddenly, the burden of raising a family fell
solely on her. With no time to grieve, she became the
breadwinner as well as a pillar for her teenaged children. She
During those years, most girls received no
education or only primary school education. The society even
shunned career women. However, looking back, Mrs. Lai was ahead
of her time. Her professional training enabled her to develop a
career, which became essential for her to raise her children
independently and earn respect from peers and the community.
Her career inadvertently brought connections
with strangers and her community, and thus, enlarged her life
beyond the boundary of family and relatives.
To pursue a higher education, her now
grown-up son and daughter came to the US and had their own
family and children. Retired from her career in Taiwan, Mrs. Lai
came to the US to assist her son and his young family. Pitching
in as a typical American grandmother, Mrs. Lai learned to drive,
passed the road test and obtained her first driver’s license.
With her son and daughter-in-law developing their career, Mrs.
Lai picked up her grandchildren, taking them to piano, swimming
and other lessons. Her driver’s license enabled her to have
another career later on.
Once her grandchildren moved on, so did Mrs.
Lai. She found a job at a local grocery store, where her
creativity and prudence immediately gained the boss and patrons’
trust. Using on-hand ingredients, she introduced spring rolls,
fried rice and many Taiwanese and Japanese dishes. Well received
by the patrons, they returned for more. It had brought success
to the proprietor, who subsequently entrusted the shop key to
Mrs. Lai. For ten years, rain or shine, she showed up at the
shop at 4 am to start the coffee, muffins and prepare for lunch.
A shoulder injury from a car accident forced a reluctant
retirement, at the age of 80.
Japanese and Taiwanese were her native
tongues. She later learned Mandarin when the Kuomintang fled
from China to Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War. In
addition to her driver’s license, she learned English. Mrs Lai
voluntarily became an American citizen in 1976, at the
celebration of the US bicentennial.
Mrs. Lai embodies the women of the greatest
generation in Taiwan history. Her sacrifices and the diligence
with which she raised her family built her career. Despite the
pain she endured from both personal losses and war, she never
whimpered nor whined. The courage, integrity, social grace,
warmth, dignity and strength she displayed have enriched many
who have come in contact with her. It is a privilege that I
share with many others who came to know her at various stages of
her colorful life, and we shall miss her dearly.